We live in a time where it is thought that strength must be shown for it to be “strength”. Arguing online is the norm. Brash politicians are lauded. The bolder the talking head, the better. For men to be men they must be strong and commanding. Pastors must be firm and charismatic leaders if they are to generate a following. And for the church to “truly” stand against the rising tide of the culture, it must be boisterously staunch and outwardly superior to combat the evil of our day. But is this what Christ would have for us to demonstrate that we stand with Jesus—is this what the Lord had in mind when he called his followers to be like him?
Throughout the whole of the scriptures, God describes himself as the God who cares for ones who cannot care for themselves. A small sampling is all that is needed to demonstrate this point. Psalm 10:17-18, “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted…to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed”, Psalm 72:12-14 "he delivers the needy when he calls…He has pity on the weak and the needy, From oppression and violence he redeems their life”. In Ezekiel 34, when God lambasts the false shepherds of his people, he condemns them for caring only for themselves and for, horrifically, feeding themselves on the Lord’s sheep! To such an inversion of God’s desires, he promises to care for his sheep himself (vs. 15) and to set up the one true Shepherd in the line of David (vs. 23). This shepherd is One after the Lord’s own heart (Jer. 3:15) who will not take advantage of those under his care, but feed and provide for them. This is the very tender compassion of our God—this is how he chooses to make himself known! Our God is a God who uses his strength to serve.
The Worldly Alternative
The opposite is true of the world. Worldly men, as described in the scriptures, think only of themselves. Jude 12 says they “shepherd only themselves.” Philippians 3:19 captures the selfishness of these enemies of the cross as those “whose god is their bellies”—they only care about satisfying self. And Jesus said in Matthew 20:25-26: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” Jesus distinctly calls us to fly in the face of the world’s typical standard of “always look out for number one.” The world’s default perspective is who else is going to look out for me, if I don’t? In the corporate world, climb the dogpile faster than the competition. In the financial sector, make as much as possible—personal greed is the ticket! In social settings, put others down so you look good. In any sphere of authority, make sure people are serving you.
The Heartbeat of Christ
But Jesus calls us to have the same mindset that is present in him be present in us (Phil. 2:5). He radically asks if his disciples want to be first or if they want to be greatest, then they must race to the back, and be the greatest servant of all. In Christ’s economy, washing feet is the position of greatest honor—humility is the position of greatest strength. This is why he says the meek shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5) not the powerful, domineering ones. The dominant may believe they are increasing and “getting ahead”, but the Lord ensures the opposite is true.
The earthly man’s perspective is not the perspective of our Lord. Man wants to get ahead, wants to work hard and build one’s own dream. And this mentality of being a self-made man, a hard man, a person of prominence, is always threatening to creep into the Church—and does creep in! But Christ calls his followers to reject the ways of the world and the means of the world, and instead adopt his posture of service and humility.
At the end of our earthly lives, Jesus tell us what will be openly praised by the Lord on the last great day, as the fruit he has brought about in and through his servants is publicly examined. He says in Matthew 25, when his followers stand before the throne, that he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison, and those who are truly Christ’s, cared for Him in such times. Dumbstruck, his followers, not boastful in themselves in anyway, not haughty and lifted up, wonder aloud: “when did we do these things?” Jesus staggeringly replies, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Notice his emphasis at the final judgment: those who used their time, energies, strength, and talents to serve—more than that—to serve the least and the lowly.
The Reason the Father Loves the Son
This open vindication of the saints’ faithful service is very similar to the open praise of the Father about the Son. Jesus is declared by God on a number of occasions to be loved by his Father. But in John 10:17, Jesus explicitly tells us why that is so. “For this reason the Father loves me…” Is it because of Christ’s power? Is it due to his many accomplishments? Does it come about because of his prominence, or is it a result of all the people he has been able to subject under his might and wrath? Of course it is none of these. “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” THE reason that God the Father declares his unceasing and unchanging love for the Son, is because Christ came to serve. He came to seek and save the lost. He came to lift up the weak and the oppressed. He lived (and died) perfectly in accord with the heartbeat of God—to raise the lowly up. And in rising again from the dead, he has raised we poor and miserable ones up with him and seated us in the heavenlies (see Isaiah 57:15).
Let This Pattern Be In You
If this is the pattern God has clearly laid out for us in his Word and by the example of his Son—using one’s strength to serve—then where does that leave us? First, we must never seek our own glory, but the glory of Christ in the care for his children. Second, we must never use any position of power or authority to serve ourselves, our names, our reputations, our prominence, or to build our own little kingdoms. Instead, we must use any gracious gifts of God to love, care for, and serve any who may be under our influence. Third, this is pastoral shepherding at its finest. Any shepherd of the sheep must distance themselves as far away from the false shepherds of Ezekiel 34 as possible, and must make it their lifelong aim to humbly feed, tend, and nourish Christ’s lambs. True leadership will always be tender and compassionate for those who are weak and struggling. The heartbeat of our God and Savior is to use one’s position to serve those in need of help. May it always be so of his followers as well.
Adapted from a longer article first published in the May/June 2023 edition of the RP Witness under the same title.